Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Enjoy A Zoo Visit: St Louis Zoo

One of my favorite vacation activities is to visit different zoos around the country. Most areas that you might be visiting will have a zoo within a comfortable driving distance and it is a good activity, particularly when traveling with young kids. Educational, fun and an ideal way to get outside and move around.

I have been to the St. Louis Zoo several times and have always enjoyed it. Located in the famous Forest Park of St. Louis and with 19,000 animals and 655 species, it is no wonder that there are 3 million visitors a year to this zoo. The best part about this zoo is that it is FREE to enter. You can visit 6 "zoo zones" and see animals from every continent, including one of the nicest penguin/puffin exhibits I have seen at any zoo. For an additional cost, there is a separate children's area, 4-D movie, railroad, carousel and sea lion show. We have a membership at another zoo, which has reciprocal benefits with the St. Louis Zoo. While the zoo itself is free, you can receive discounts on the paid attractions with reciprocal memberships.
Parking is a bit hefty if you want to park in the zoo parking lot, but if you arrive early, there is close parking that can be obtained for free.

A visit to this zoo is a definite must for a trip to St. Louis!  http://www.stlzoo.org/

Sunday, December 9, 2012

One Of A Kind Museum: National Museum of the US Air Force

If you are traveling through Ohio, particularly across Interstate 70, schedule a stop at the world's largest military aviation museum, The National Museum of the US Air Force. I have made dozens of trips over the years and my kids enjoy visiting and seeing all of the planes. More than 350 airplanes and missiles are displayed in exhibits exploring the beginnings of air travel with the Wright Brothers to World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Cold War and Space Exploration Gallery. There are also special displays depicting artifacts from the Holocaust and the Bob Hope Tours to entertain the troops. If the weather is nice, a trip outside to see the outdoor Memorial Park and Air Park is a must.

One of the best parts of visiting the museum, is the chance to tour the Presidential Gallery, which houses the Air Force One that was in service for many Presidents, including the plane that escorted the body of John F. Kennedy following his assassination. There are many other Presidential aircraft on display as well. Here's your chance to stand on the steps of Air Force One and give your best presidential wave! This special gallery is accessible by shuttle from the main museum and adults will have to provide an ID in order to travel to that part of the base.

A trip to this museum will take several hours to tour and it is completely FREE to enter. The only charge comes if you wish to view an IMAX film. I highly encourage a stop at this one-of-a-kind museum!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Great 1-Night Trips: Indianapolis

Indianapolis is such a great city! The destinations in this 1-night stay work really well together because both are incredibly kid-friendly and one is mainly an outside attraction while the other is strictly inside so you can plan according to the weather.

The Indianapolis Children’s Museum is one of the nation’s top tourist draws and the world’s largest children’s museum. For those of you that have never been, it is huge and the kids will LOVE it! We spent at least 4 hours there and could have spent more time. From the fantastic dinosaur exhibit to the train exhibit, indoor carousel, toddler/preschooler play area and special touring exhibits, there is definitely something for everyone. They also have a cafeteria on the premises so you don’t have to leave for lunch. If you have kids, make sure you visit this great museum.

Conner Prairie is such a terrific place to visit and learn about early American history in a fun and interactive way. It is one of the nation’s largest outdoor living history museums and really brings history to life with costumed historical interpreters playing the part of their time periods. From the Indian encampment to the Prairetown,animal encounters, working farm and dedicated kids’ discovery areas, Conner Prairie will provide the whole family with hours of activities. My kids loved the old-fashioned dress-up play area and the Indian encampment the most, but my daughter was also enthralled with all of the baby animals in the farm area (we were last there in the spring and the baby animals were plentiful).

Indianapolis has a lot to offer in the way of hotel accommodations. I would recommend checking out the Caribean Cove Hotel and Waterpark. While we have not stayed there, I know that they offer special deals for some of the Indianapolis attractions.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Christmas Light Extravaganza

Christmas light displays can be so much fun for the whole family to enjoy. What a wonderful time for the family to appreciate Christmas together and make memories for years to come.There are several around the southwestern Ohio area that are great for adults and kids alike.While I have focused on several of these events, you can use the Christmas light finder website to find local displays in your area.  http://www.christmaslightfinder.com/

I really enjoy Woodland Lights. The lighted path, rides, reindeer,carriage rides and visits with Santa add to the Christmas spirit, plus it is reasonably priced.

Clifton Mills is another beautiful light display and while a little more expensive, it truly is unique with a dancing light show synchronized to music. They also have a miniature village and Santa museum.

Whispering Christmas in Eaton, Ohio is yet another option for Christmas lights and the good news is that it is free. Go to the link below and it should be mentioned as you scroll down to the December events.

Of course, there is always the Cincinnati Zoo Festival of Lights. It is a very beautiful display; however, it can also be very crowded, particularly on the weekends. If you can arrive earlier in the afternoon and enjoy the animals while already being in the zoo before it gets dark, your chances of encountering less crowd and stress will be greatly reduced!

The Christmas Ranch near Cincinnati was featured on Good Morning America and HGTV. Visit the website for more details on all they have to offer.

In Sharonville (near Cincinnati), you can enjoy a drive-thru display at The Holiday In Lights at Sharon Woods. There is also a Santaland where you can venture out of your car and enjoy some Christmas festivities.

Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park also hosts a beautiful lights display. You will be amazed at the 2 million lights used to make hundreds of light displays.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

5 Things: Must-See Attractions at Disney's Animal Kingdom

If you are visiting Disney World, each park has some must-see attractions that should not be missed. My kids love the Animal Kingdom at Disney World and I have listed our top 5 rides/shows that you will not want to miss. Some people do not have an entire day to devote to each park, and if you only have a small amount of time or are there on a extremely crowded day, hitting a few of the highlights will make your time seem very well-spent.

1) Kilimanjaroo Safari Expeditions-
Ride jeeps into the African savanna for some real-life encounters with animals such as lions, giraffes, rhinos, zebras and the list goes on. It is a wonderful attraction with such attention to every detail and probably the closest that most of us will ever be to a real African safari.
There are fast passes for this ride and I recommend getting one upon arrival if the lines are already getting long.

2) Festival of the Lion King-
A 30-minute Broadway-style musical show based on the music and characters from The Lion King. Even though it is 30 minutes in length, the action and colors will definitely keep the attention of younger children. My kids really enjoyed this show and asked to go back and see it again. 

3) Expedition Everest-
Cleverly themed Mt. Everest-inspired high-speed roller coaster with a fun twist: an encounter with a very realistic Yeti. This ride is not for young children or those who do not enjoy high-intensity rides; however, for thrill seekers, this is a must.
Fast passes are available and I highly encourage getting one early in the day. 

4) Finding Nemo-The Musical-
This musical experience is definitely one of my favorites at any of the parks. The show is 30 minutes in length and fashioned on the Pixar film, Finding Nemo. I loved the positive energy and colorful artistry of the show and my kids enjoyed seeing their favorite characters come to life. 

5) Tree of Life-It's Tough To Be A Bug-
The Tree of Life is the centerpiece to the whole park and is so unique with the numerous animals carved into it. There are trails encircling the tree so that you can walk at your own pace to look at the carvings and take pictures. The show, It's Tough To Be A Bug is a 3-D movie based on the film, A Bug's Life. I really like the special effects involved with the movie, although I will say that my toddler was a bit afraid as were a few others in our showing.There are also fast passes available for the 3-D movie.

Trying to catch all of these attractions in one day does not have to be difficult as long as you take advantage of the fast passes and keep an eye on show times. I will have a list of slower-paced and less crowded attractions around the park in a later post.
If you are planning a trip to Disney, don't overlook this awesome park. It is a great park for younger kids and they will love the myriad of animals that can be viewed up close and personal.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Visit the Home of Dum Dum Pops

If you are traveling through northwest Ohio, make a stop at Spangler Candy Co., home of the Dum Dum pop. They also make candy canes, circus peanuts and Saf -T pops. There is a great tour of the facilities aboard the Dum Dum trolley. The kids as well as adults will enjoy learning about the process of making the candies as you ride around the factory. A small museum houses some unique candy memorabilia. We were able to taste test the new flavors of Dum Dum pops that they were working on and the kids scored lots and lots of free pops. Perhaps a few too many! It was a quaint stop and so interesting to see the home of Dum Dums!  Check times as they vary depending on the time of year.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Can Kayak Help My Travel Planning?


What is Kayak and can it help me in planning my next trip? Kayak is a website that will provide a rundown of the flights, hotels, vacation deals and car rentals in a format that will allow you to compare prices across several sites for purchasing travel. I usually will check Kayak to get a broad picture of the price range of whatever travel item I am looking to buy. It is a simple way to get travel quotes from the major travel suppliers such as Orbitz, Travelocity , Expedia, etc. in just a few easy clicks rather than going to each individual site and typing in the same travel request multiple times. As a busy mom, any tools to help narrow down the time involved in booking travel is much appreciated.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Entertrainment Junction: Calling All Train Fans

If you have a train lover in your family, Entertrainment Junction is a must-see attraction to visit in the Cincinnati area. This museum/train extravaganza houses the world's largest indoor train display. Walk through a historical tour represented by lots and lots of miniature trains running along tracks beside, above and all around. Steam locomotives, trolley cars, today's diesel locomotives and subway trains run through the mini towns, cities and countryside of our nation's history. The American Railroad Museum is also housed within the building and explores our country's railroading history with interesting and interactive exhibits. Imagination Junction is a railroad-themed playland for the younger set. My kids could literally spend an hour or two just playing within this area.

During the warmer months, there are some small-scale trains to ride outside and special seasonal activities for Halloween and Christmas are also part of the fun. Whether you live in the area, are coming for a vacation or just passing through, this is a unique, fun and educational place to visit.


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Featured Post at Our Everyday Harvest

Thanks to Kelly at Our Everyday Harvest for featuring my blog on the weekend blog hop. Check our her site for the latest coupons, deals, freebies and giveaways.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Check Out A Zoo Overnight

How many people are aware that their closest zoo might actually offer zoo overnights for families? Well, I was not until last year. We had been members of our local zoo for many years and I had never noticed the zoo overnight advertised in the newsletter we receive quarterly.

I am so glad that I finally read and researched about our zoo overnight offerings. It was an awesome experience for my daughter and one that we will definitely repeat. From San Diego to Houston and Atlanta, most zoos now have some type of family overnight. We picked the manatee experience- what a way to wake up in the morning with a manatee pressing its nose up to the glass watching you sleep. It was extremely economical for what we received. A special night tour of the zoo, animal shows, breakfast in the morning and behind the scenes tours of some of the animal buildings.  This may not be the case at all zoos, but we were able to just sign up as a family and did not have to attend with a larger group in order to participate.

Check it out, what a wonderful memory for your kids and something they will always remember!! We are already planning our next overnight trip and looking forward to it!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Travel Resource: Awesome Packing Lists

If you are like most moms, taking the actual family trip is fun, but the leg work involved to get ready for the trip: not so much fun! Laundry has to be done, clothes and toiletries packed, toys and activities for the car ride sorted out. It never fails that something will be inevitably left behind, especially if you have young children.
I recently found a wonderful packing list, courtesy of the travelmamas.com website. The list heading is for babies and toddlers, but it is really a comprehensive list for the whole family. It is already in PDF format, so it just needs saved to the computer and printed out for the next trip. I guarantee following this list will save A LOT of time in your next packing adventure.

                                       "Mom, did you remember my toothbrush this time?!"

Friday, November 2, 2012

Welcome to Lovin' The Weekend Blog Hops with your co-hosts:

Thank you to every one who has stopped by, whether this is your first visit or you have been a faithful ongoing participant!

We would love for you to stop by each of the co-hosts and follow us, then feel free to add your links to any or all of the following linkies.

 We also randomly choose a Featured host each week from the Lovin' The Readers linky. This week we are featuring Erin from Traveling Kids on the Go.

Here's what she has to say:
"I actually started blogging about 6 years ago as a way to chronicle our adoption journey. I kept it up for awhile and then took a little break from blogging. 
Fast forward to now: I have always loved to travel and really enjoy doing so with the kids (ages 6 and 4) so we get around a lot! Plus, since we homeschool, there are more opportunities to travel and explore at the off-season times of year. Many of my friends ask for tips and advice about traveling with kids and places to take them, deals, etc. so I decided I would start to put information into an ebook format. After finishing one mini-ebook and currently working on a second, I thought it was a good time to go back to blogging. There are not a ton of blogs that focus on travel with kids, but I hope people can get some new travel ideas and ways to make traveling with children a little more of a smooth process. "

Please take the time to check out her blog, let her know you are visiting from the Lovin' The Weekend Blog Hops. 
Don't forget to link up to the Lovin' the Readers Hop if you would like a chance to be a Featured host next week. Please comment with a way to contact you, especially if there is not an obvious way mentioned on your blog. We would love to include a little write up about you and your blog in the next week's Lovin' The Weekend Blog Hop post, including a link to your blog. And you will get to include the linky codes on your blog. Sound fun? We're looking forward to getting to know our readers better.

Here's how this blog hop works. We would appreciate it if you would follow Tots and Me, Adventures of a Mommy Homemaker and An Ordinary Housewife then please head on over to our Featured Host and follow as well. If you no longer have GFC please follow in some other way. After that there are three different linkies you can link to. Whichever one you choose to link to, please grab that button and share it on your blog (the codes are on Tot's and Me's sidebar). We'd love it if you could tweet or in some other way share about this blog hop, the more people who know about it, the more potential visitors and new followers of your blog. We'd love to meet some new friends this weekend.  

Some people are more interested in just increasing their numbers, while others really want people who appreciate their blog and want to keep up with their posts. So, there are two separate linkies. The third linky is for you to link up your giveaways.

If you are interested in increasing the number of followers to your blog via GFC, Linky Followers, email, Twitter, Facebook or Google+ link up here. We will follow you back if you follow us (just note which one you are linking to):

Tots and Me

If you are interested in gaining followers to your blog who will read and comment and truly find an interest in your blog, link up here:

Tots and Me

If you have family friendly giveaways to link up, here's your spot. Please make sure to include an end date for your giveaway.

Tots and Me

We are so glad you stopped by. Please leave a comment if you link up and we will be sure to stop by and follow back.

Don't forget to check out my "Blog Hops" page for other great weekend blog hops!!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

5 Things To Know Before You Go: Chicago with Kids

Chicago is such an awesome city to visit: full of history, world-class museums, shopping, fun dining options and kid-friendly attractions. If you are thinking ahead to spring break or summer vacation, Chicago is definitely a place to keep on the list of musts for family trips. I have visited Chicago at least a dozen times over the years. Some trips were for business, some for a girls' only weekend, a few have been a one-day up and back Chicago day trip and, of course, the family vacation.
I have listed 5 top kid attractions that are great fun for the entire family and are sure to be a highlight of your Chicago vacation.

1) Shedd Aquarium- One of the finest aquariums in the country, the backdrop for the Shedd is Lake Michigan. Take a trip to the Amazon, Carribean, and the Artic all in one afternoon. An awesome aquatic show complete with dolphins will top off a fun afternoon. My daughter thought it was so cool to actually see beluga whales up close and personal.

2) Take a Trolley Tour of Chicago- This tour will give the most bang for your buck, traveling all over the downtown area. Get all kinds of Chicago information while enjoying easy and low stress transportation to the top attractions, dining and shopping areas. My kids love riding on the top of the double decker buses for the best views, that is just the ultimate in fun for young ones and will keep their attention while the adults can listen to the tour narration. We purchase a 3-day ticket for unlimited on and off transportation. This ticket also included some Chicago neighborhood tours, taking in the sights of Chinatown, Wrigley Field and the Lincoln Park area.

3) Navy Pier - Kids will love Navy Pier! Between the gigantic ferris wheel, carousel, Chicago Children's Museum, 18-hole miniature golf course, lots of fun restaurants and old-fashioned swing ride, you could spend at least half a day or more just hanging out at the pier. It will also give you some perfect picture taking opportunities with the beautiful Lake Michigan as the backdrop.

4) Museum of Science and Industry-This museum is the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere and is filled to the brim with exciting exhibits that kids will love. Space exploration, a World War II sub to explore, trains, fairy castles, coal mines, streets of yesteryear and the human body are just a few of the areas to explore in this huge museum.
The Museum of Science and Industry is listed in the ASTC program so if you have a reciprocal membership you will be able to get free or reduced admission to this attraction. http://travelingkidsonthego.blogspot.com/2012/09/astc-passport-program.html

5) Take a Boat Ride- I love boating on the Chicago River and Lake Michigan. There are many options when considering what type of boat ride to take with kids. A Lake Michigan shoreline cruise, Chicago River architectural tour or a combination of the two are the main options for boat rides. Any of the options will give your kids a bird's eye view of the skyline, buildings and excitement of the city with a little historical education thrown in for good measure.
The following website will list comparisons of the various boat tours in the city:

For a comparison of the two main Chicago discount cards that will allow you to visit many attractions at much lower prices, visit:
Many of the attractions are listed on the discount cards.

The attractions above are just a few of the kid-approved Chicago attractions. Chicago is a a great city to explore with your children!

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Free Ebooks Round-Up

Free Ebook listings! Three ebooks available for free through a variety of formats.
The first is a mini compilation of one-night trips to take with kids around Ohio and the surrounding states. From amusement parks to museums and historical sites, there should be something for everyone.

 One Night Trips with Kids: Ohio and Surrounding States by Erin Thomas
On Smashwords:
On Barnes and Noble:
Sony E-Reader Store:

The next ebook, "Making Thanksgiving Meaningful: Kid-Centered Activities for the Holidays" explores 20 wonderful family Thanksgiving activities.
 Cover for 'Making Thanksgiving Meaningful: Kid-Centered Activities for the Holidays'

On Smashwords:

 The third ebook is a collection of recipes for Thanksgiving: "Turkey Time: Recipes for a Home Cooked Thanksgiving".
 Turkey Time: Recipes for a Home Cooked Thanksgiving Meal by Erin Thomas
On Smashwords:
On Barnes and Noble:
On Sony E-Reader Store:

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Magnificent Museums: COSI

COSI (Center of Science and Industry), located in Columbus, Ohio was voted as the #1 science center in the country by Parents magazine. We really like visiting COSI and the kids can always find new things to discover and learn.There is so much to do for all ages that it will take you a good part of the day to get through most of the museum. Some of the main areas of interest include: life/body, space, oceans, gadgets, big science park and historical progress. Several revolving temporary exhibits are also constantly rotating in and out of the museum. A dedicated space (Little Kidspace) for the under 6 crowd will keep the little ones equally as busy. Plus, there are numerous shows throughout the day, a large gift shop (every parent’s curse) and a cafeteria with many food choices.
If you have an ASTC reciprocal museum membership (http://travelingkidsonthego.blogspot.com/2012/09/astc-passport-program.html) , your family can receive free or reduced ticket prices. If you live in the Ohio area, it is definitely a must-see attraction and if you happen to be coming to Ohio or driving through, consider stopping at COSI for some science fun!


Sunday, October 21, 2012

Travel Deals via JB Dollar Stretcher

A website that I like to visit frequently to check out travel and entertainment deals is the JB Dollar Stretcher. When you go to their page, you can pick a city from 6 states and view the deals for that area. Sometimes there will be vacation packages as well. Listed now in my area, I found discounts for two local animal sanctuaries, several hayride/fall entertainment attractions, a nearby indoor waterpark, a well-known sculpture garden, indoor kids' jump playgrounds, and a vacation getaway package to Frankenmuth just to name a few of the deals.
Check it out and start saving money on attractions!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Nature Centers: Enjoying The Great Outdoors

Visiting a nature center is often an overlooked addition to a trip that can be a fun, educational and give everyone a little exercise and fresh air. We have a terrific nature center about 10 minutes from our house and with our membership comes free admission to dozens of nature and wildlife centers around the country. We have visited many of them that are in driving distance and have stopped at a few en route to a farther away destination. It is a unique way to get the kids out and running off some energy in a calming atmosphere for an hour before another long haul in the car. I would much rather find a nice park or nature center to walk around while we make a stop rather than shuffling around a grocery store or playing in a fast food playland somewhere.
Our nature center pass is very economical, only $35 for the whole year and many of them are similar in price. We take advantage of walking the trails, visiting the animals in the wildlife center, and being involved in the many special nature education programs for kids.
Here is the link for some of ANCA (Association of Nature Center Administrators) reciprocal centers:
Just look under services and click on the reciprocal admission program and a PDF will open.

The following article examines the link between outdoor play/nature education and positive results in a child's learning and behavior.

I would encourage everyone to check out their local wildlife parks/nature centers. In my estimation, it can be an invaluable educational resource as well as providing some new travel destinations.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Managing Car Trips with Kids

Anyone that has traveled with children knows that one of the main hurdles to keeping things running smoothly is conquering the time in the car during a long road trip.
In an earlier post, I linked to a great blog featuring excellent car trip activities.

A technique that I employ for managing road trip behavior is a little old-fashioned reward system. My mom always did this for me on long car rides and I use it for my children now. I have to say it works very effectively for ages anywhere from about 3 to 12 and is a great incentive for keeping the peace. Before the trip, I purchase several trinkets, maybe figure one per 200-300 miles. I always try to keep it at something the kids can do in the car: a cheap movie for the DVD player, a lap game, books, etc. I wrap the presents before the trip (wrapped is always more enticing then not wrapped!) and stick them in a tote bag. The kids are very excited to know that there are some possible goodies in the back seat for them, although they also know that there are some rules they have to abide by to receive one.

I go over the rules for "car time" and if any of the rules are broken, there will be no present at the next determined stop. Now, this may lead to some unpleasantness (perhaps an understatement); however, the momentary meltdown will be followed by much better behavior in order to earn a prize for the next go-around. Since I have done this for awhile, my kids are pretty accustomed to how it works and what is expected so they will usually be able to earn their prizes. There are not too many meltdowns at the prospect of not earning a prize as they know there will be another opportunity and an over-the-top fit might actually hurt their chances for the next gift stop.

A good idea that I have seen to go along with the reward system is to have little red, green and yellow light cards that can be clipped to the visor for each child. As long as the behavior in the car is good, they will stay on green, but if the behavior lurks into murky territory, the color will become yellow as the final warning. A red light card means you are out of luck and will not have the privilege of picking a present. I am actually going to start using this on our next long road trip.

                                                     Yay! We made it! Long 5 hour car trip!!

It may take a little extra time to gather some items for the trip and wrap them, but the sanity and relative quiet from the back seat will more than make up for it. Actually, I pick up items to add to my "car present tote" all year long so it really is not much work right before a trip. Looking back on the years that my mom did this with me, I have fond memories of the stops and excitement of getting a prize and it probably made for a happier trip for everyone!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Wild Waterparks, An Indoor Adventure

Today's post includes some options for indoor water parks, particularly in the Ohio area. Now that the weather is turning cold, why not spend a night or two and enjoy some summertime temps.

My favorite indoor waterpark is actually Great Wolf Lodge, with locations scattered throughout the country. I like the multitude of things for the kids to do and it has always been very clean. Of course, it is going to be more crowded and expensive during the school breaks and weekends, but if you can swing going during an off-week or on a weekday night, it becomes much more affordable. We always try to do a Sunday night-Monday day combination right after the spring break rush and it is fairly deserted. The kids ask to go there all the time and there really is something for all ages. If you sign up for their mailing list you will get savings offers in the regular mail or thru email.

Another popular destination in our neck of the woods is CoCoKey Resort, which can be found in many places around the country as well.  While smaller than Great Wolf, it is not quite as expensive and day passes are also offered. The only caveat to the day pass being that it could also be more crowded since people would not have to stay overnight at the hotel. They have plenty to do for younger kids and older kids so it is perfect if you have a large age-range in your family.

Of course, the granddaddy of all indoor waterparks in Ohio would be Kalahari in Sandusky. There is also one located in the Wisconsin Dells. I know it used to be and might still be the largest indoor waterpark in the country. Beautiful place to stay and lots to keep the kids busy, perhaps even a little more for the more adventurous kids.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Off the Beaten Path Travel:Fair Oaks Dairy Farm

If you are ever visiting Indianapolis or Chicago, make a special trip to see the Fair Oaks Farms Dairy, which is located between the two cities right off the interstate. It is a one-of-a-kind experience that is both educational and fun.

Fair Oaks is the country's largest dairy farm, but has also been transformed into a unique tourist attraction. They have 40-minute tours of one of ten dairy farms, which includes a trip to see the baby cows and cow milking carousel. I have never seen a milking carousel in person and it was really interesting. Back at your starting base, The Dairy Adventure Barn, they have a 4-D movie about the milking process and educational exhibit halls to explore. There is also an interactive area for kids. In the warmer months, a special kids' outdoor play area is open. Not to be missed is the birthing barn. At Fair Oaks, we were told that there are 80-100 births a day so the chances are good that you will be able to see a calf being born. We entered the birthing barn right after a calf had been born and were able to see her take her first steps, which was such a neat experience for the kids. The birthing barn also has a nursery where the baby calves are placed a few hours after being born. They were very cute!!

Fair Oaks also has a cheese factory on the premises, which you can watch from an observation area as well as a gift shop area and ice cream parlor. The ice cream was really fantastic.

This attraction is truly worth the stop and is very convenient if you are in the area or passing through.  http://www.fofarms.com/en/home

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Should I Try Hotwire or Priceline? Check out Better Bidding for Answers


Have you ever looked at Hotwire or Priceline and wondered if you should just "go for it" and put in a bid for a hotel room and accept a hotel without knowing which one you would be staying at? I was very hesitant to try it, but, eventually, decided to see what I could come up with. For a long time, Hotwire would only let you blindly accept a pre-determined price for a hotel property without knowing which hotel you were actually getting. Of course, the number of stars, approximate location and some amenities were listed, but not the hotel name. Now, you have the option of paying a higher price for the actual name of the hotel, although the prices are still a bit lower than what you would normally find. I have used Hotwire four times by blindly accepting the hotel without a name. Three out of four of those transactions ended up being very positive and great deals. The fourth was not so great and I ended up having to get another hotel after already paying for the Hotwire one. Epic vacation fail on that one! So, I thought my lesson was learned as I'm not a risk taker.

But, I decided to give Priceline a try with the name your own price. I liked this option because I could put in the number of stars I wanted and really low-ball the price. If they accepted it, good for me. If not, I would go back to the drawing board. I ended up with a terrific deal: $49 for a three and a half star downtown city hotel. So, all went well and I would definitely try it again. I do have a few caveats for the best way to navigate through the pitfalls of getting a good deal that I will detail in a later post. In this post, however, I really wanted to highlight a site that I have used extensively to help me narrow down the possibilities of what hotel I would actually be getting before hitting that submit button.

The website is called Better Bidding at www.betterbidding.com. It boasts that you will learn some secrets of successfully using Hotwire and Priceline including Priceline hotel lists and winning bids, Hotwire amenities, and hotel reviews. There is a forum where users can list which hotel property they are thinking of bidding on and see if anyone else knows which property this would be. It makes it much easier to narrow down what the possibilities are based on the amenities and stars listed. If there are two four-star hotels listed for a certain area you might be able to differentiate which one is which based on the the hotel description. The forum will give you a lot of valuable insight into the experience that others have had bidding on the same properties. Check it out and you might be a bit more inclined to try one of these budget-conscious travel bidding sites.


Monday, October 1, 2012

Why Travel with Kids?

Why travel with kids? It can be inconvenient- dragging toys, extra clothes, portable electronics, and a huge supply of Capri-Suns halfway across the country. Not to mention if you have a baby or toddler and you might as well rent a trailer to haul everything you're going to need. Plus, the kids are out of their normal routine, might be missing sleep and are eating on the run. Nerves can get frayed and tantrums blow up, particularly if it's hot and standing in line is involved.

So, now that I've made traveling with children seem so glamorous and, well, fun, I will tell you why I think travel with kids can be so great.

First and foremost, it is so important to see the sights and experience the places that our country and world have to offer. If you live in a city on the coast, travel to the middle of the country and enjoy rural and small town life. By the same token, if you live in a small town, visiting some cities is a terrific way to broaden horizons. I do not ever want my children to think that life ends when you cross the line into another town or county.

As a parent, I feel that it is my responsibility to introduce living history to my children. What better way to accomplish this goal, then to travel with them. Take them to the places where things occurred, have a conversation about the events and people that framed the historical site and grow an appreciation in them for the awesomeness of our country. Reading or hearing about history can never substitute for actually visiting Gettysburg, seeing the Declaration of Independence and taking a ride on a steamboat down the Mississippi River. The culmination of actually experiencing history firsthand coupled with the fact that many historical sites are low cost makes it a great way to travel with kids.

Nothing is better and more satisfying as a parent than to see things through the eyes of a child. It may take a lot more work to get from point A to point B when you are traveling as a family with kids, but to see their faces the first time they see the ocean or mountain or meet Mickey Mouse is totally worth the extra trips up the hotel elevator with all of the kid "junk" or the one million questions of "are we there yet?" or even the dozen extra bathroom breaks.

I love to travel with my kids! And, here are some reasons why: the giggles playing in the sand and ocean waves, the utter joy when they meet their first Disney princess, the uncontrollable laughter on a roller coaster, watching their faces as they try a new food, the wonder of looking up into a sea of skyscrapers, the beauty of little feet skipping down a mountain trail, the amazement when you visit our nation's monuments, the magnificence of bright lights or sunsets over rolling hills, zoos, museums, canyons, rivers, lakes and watching them learn all kinds of new things.

I guess the question becomes: why would you not want to travel with your kids? Some of the best and more cherished family memories come from trips together. Make sure your kids have those memories and learn about the world around them at the same time. It truly is worth the extra work!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Great 1-Night Trips: Dearborn, MI


Henry Ford Museum/Greenfield Village- Dearborn, MI
The Greenfield Village and Henry Ford Museum complex are a huge treasure trove of history and rich in educational value for the whole family. I have probably been there 5 or 6 times over the years as a child and adult and have always enjoyed it.

The Village is an all-day undertaking as you will have tons of things to see and do.  There are seven historic districts to visit in the village and plenty of old-fashioned rides (steam locomotive, vintage Model-T, carousel, horse-drawn carriage). Step back in time and visit the stomping grounds of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and the Wright Brothers.
The Henry Ford Museum is chock full of historical memorabilia and it will take several hours to see everything.  There are presidential limousines on display, the Rosa Parks bus , Abraham Lincoln/George Washington artifacts, as well as plenty of planes, trains and automobiles.
In addition, the museum/village complex is the starting point for Ford Factory tour tickets as well as IMAX tickets.  Purchasing combo tickets for the attractions is the most economical way to get more bang for your buck and I highly recommend doing this.

Dearborn boasts many hotels and I have stayed several times at the Hyatt Regency Dearborn, which is very close to the attractions. I would recommend checking out the TripAdvisor ratings to see which hotels in the area are getting the best ratings.

For more 1-night trips to Ohio and surrounding states, click here for a free ebook:

Sunday, September 23, 2012

FREE Disney Planning DVD

If you are planning on visiting a Disney park and would like an overview of what each park and resort have to offer, I would encourage you to send for a free Disney vacation planning DVD. They provide the highlights of each park and give a glimpse into the various themes of all of the Disney property resorts.
Even though we just took a Disney vacation within the past year, my kids still ask to watch the DVD. I think it brings back good memories of their trip and gets them excited to make a return trip someday.
Just click on the link and fill in the information.